English Touring Opera is presenting two full-scale operas from its current repertoire at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, but not, sadly, its new production of Tippett’s King Priam. The reasons why, one suspects, are too depressing to contemplate. It’s certainly surprising how few Welsh National Opera regulars one sees in the audience for opera of this quality, in a theatre that’s only 25 minutes from Birmingham.
Meanwhile, Liam Steel’s 2009 production of The Magic Flute is a thing of sincere beauty. Designer Chloe Lamford’s deep blue wood-panelled chamber, inventively lit by Guy Hoare, evokes a Masonic meeting hall of Mozart’s era, while simultaneously – through side-doors and traps – providing an ideal setting for ritual and farce alike. Details throughout the production alluded both to the opera’s performance tradition – the Queen of the Night’s train covering the stage in shimmering blue silk – and a very modern comic sensibility: cuddly toy birds bopping along to Papageno and Papagena’s final duet.
In this deftly-realised world, Tamino (Nicholas Sharratt, understated but vocally warm) and Pamina (Anna Patalong – poised, affecting and heartbreakingly plangent in her distress) went through their ordeals. Wyn Pencarreg’s big, kindly Papageno found the humanity behind the gags, and Andrew Slater’s unusually fallible Sarastro showed himself an unsettlingly plausible counterpart for Laure Meloy – a particularly sinister Queen of the Night.
Michael Rosewell’s spirited orchestra propelled it all along at a buoyant pace, in a performance and production that balanced the joyous silliness and deep seriousness of Mozart’s inspiration as gracefully – and as movingly – as any we’ve ever seen. It’s due in Coventry in May: more than worth the trip